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LeBron on Lakers’ playoff push: ’23 of the most important games of my career’

2023 NBA All Star Game

SALT LAKE CITY, UTAH - FEBRUARY 19: LeBron James #6 of the Los Angeles Lakers dunks during the first quarter in the 2023 NBA All Star Game between Team Giannis and Team LeBron at Vivint Arena on February 19, 2023 in Salt Lake City, Utah. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Kyle Terada - Pool/Getty Images)

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SALT LAKE CITY — “It’s 23 of the most important games of my career for a regular season.”

That statement from LeBron James turned heads before the All-Star Game Sunday. This is the NBA’s all-time scoring leader, who in a few minutes would play in his 19th All-Star Game, not to mention the four rings, four MVPs, and GOAT-level resume he has put together in 20 NBA seasons. Do these next 23 games matter that much to the man?

Yes.

This is who LeBron is — a man always looking forward, looking for the next challenge, and relishing the competition. Getting these Lakers — 27-32, the 13th seed in the West at the All-Star break — into the playoffs and being a threat there is the challenge.

“I don’t want to see myself not being part of the postseason for two years straight. It’s just not part of my DNA,” LeBron said later, expanding on why the 23 games matter to him. “We’re sitting up here talking about the [all-time scoring] record and things of that nature, and that’s all cool, but I’m more passionate about trying to make the postseason and give ourselves a chance to compete for another Larry O’Brien Trophy.

“That’s just who I am. That’s what I’m cut from. So I hope I can figure out a way to just make sure that I’m available on the floor every single night for these 23 games to give us a chance, give our group a chance to be able to compete every night and give ourselves a chance to win every night so we can give ourselves a chance to get into the postseason.”

The availability of LeBron and Anthony Davis will matter a lot in getting the Lakers to the postseason. The right hand contusion that was the official reason LeBron sat out the second half of the All-Star game is nothing to worry about. Both LeBron and Davis getting a week off to let their bodies heal for a final push is needed.

The Lakers improved their roster at the trade deadline, adding needed shooting with D’Angelo Russell and Malik Beasley (Russell can handle some secondary playmaking as well), plus Jared Vanderbilt to hit the boards and add more of an inside presence next to Davis. Those three newcomers joined LeBron and Davis in the starting lineup in the Lakers’ win over the Pelicans just before the break, which allows Austin Reaves, Rui Hachimura, Dennis Schroder and others to come off the bench.

LeBron believes that is not only a lineup that can make the playoffs but do some damage once there.

“I’ve always been confident in any club that I’ve been on once we got into the playoffs that we can compete with anyone, and I feel no different now,” LeBron said. “With the roster the way we’re shaped up right now, if we can finish off this regular season on the right foot, then we can compete versus anyone in the Western Conference, if not the whole league. But it’s going to take a lot of commitment, which is okay. That’s what it should be about.”

Nobody should question LeBron’s commitment — he means what he says about these final 23 games. Whether the Lakers can keep this new rotation healthy and on the court is the question that will determine if LeBron can get back to the postseason.